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Off topic: Mis-translations and cross-cultural howlers
Thread poster: Libero_Lang_Lab

Libero_Lang_Lab  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:37
Member (2006)
Russian to English
+ ...
Dec 11, 2002

While I\'m on a roll and desperately trying not to think about a looming deadline, here\'s another category for you to contribute to.

This is the place to include examples, and again there are many, of:

a) bad attempts at translation (invariably by non-native speakers of the target language) which have comical results

b) unfortunate attempts to come up with product names in a foreign language, which fall flat on their face.... or products which would never make it abroad because of their name.

Again a few examples to set you going:

A sign at a monastery outside Moscow, helpfully written in English for the benefit of tourists, used to advertise twice weekly tours around it\'s renowned cemetry (I hope they\'ve removed it):

\"See famous Russian writers buried here on Mondays and Thursdays.\"

Somewhere in Southern Europe, there was a restaurant which assured diners that:

\"All of the water served here is passed by the manager.\"

Anyone unfamiliar with the term \"to pass water\" can probably guess what it actually means.

Examples which fit the second category - these would never do too well in the Anglo-Saxon world:

Cafe Bonka - the Spanish coffee that does wonders for your libido...

(to bonk = to have sex)

particular when washing down a slice or two of, that other Spanish favorite:

Bimbo Bread

(bimbo = a woman of loose morals)

Pienas Cheese and Pienas Milk (unsurprisingly, the Lithuanian state dairy company does not have a thriving export business to the English speaking world).

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Elizabeth Adams  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:37
Russian to English
+ ...
Nice to meet you Mr........? Dec 11, 2002

I once had to explain to a very nice journalist why the name of a prominent Russian businessman should be spelled \"Semyon.\"

He objected to the phonetic spelling, and wanted to use \"e\" instead of \"yo.\"

And then there is the menu at a fast food chain in Moscow offering \"Grandmother\'s Buns.\" Years later all my male relatives are still laughing about that one.

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:37
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
A German toilet paper Dec 11, 2002

When I was in Cologne in the RAF in 1959, there was a brand of German toilet paper named \"BUM\" on sale there. Some people who visited us for a holiday bought several rolls of it to give to their friends in England.

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Arthur Borges
Local time: 14:37
+ ...
Seen in Chinatown, Paris in 1993/94 Dec 11, 2002

I still get wistful over a brand of Chinese asparagus in appropriately cylindrical tins of challenging diameter called \"Cock\", since changed to Rooster. It made for interesting gifts.

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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
You cannot always trust your dictionary Dec 11, 2002

Coors put its slogan, \"Turn it loose,\" into Spanish, where it was read as \"Suffer from diarrhea.\"

Clairol introduced the \"Mist Stick,\" a curling iron, into German only to find out that \"mist\" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the \"manure stick\".

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, \"Salem-Feeling Free\", was translated into the Japanese market as \"When smoking Salem, you will feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.\"

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what\'s inside, since most people can\'t read English.

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.

An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope\'s visit. Instead of \"I saw the Pope\" (el Papa), the shirts read \"I saw the potato\" (la papa).

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into \"Schweppes Toilet Water.\"

Pepsi\'s \"Come alive with the Pepsi Generation\" translated into \"Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave,\" in Chinese.

Frank Perdue\'s chicken slogan, \"it takes a strong man to make a tender chicken\" was translated into Spanish as \"it takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.\"

When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, \"it won\'t leak in your pocket and embarrass you\". Instead, the company thought that the word \"embarazar\" (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: \"It won\'t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant\".

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Angela Arnone  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
Took the wind out of my sails Dec 12, 2002

I certainly can\'t compete with Jacek\'s but I came up against this cracker just today ...

\"Life with Alessi design. Italian wind to colour japanese life\"

The name of an exhibition held in Tokyo.

Could this be Italy\'s revenge for sushi?

And I wonder what colour \"japanese\" life would become? (the small-case j is in the original)

Perhaps Alessi could have invested in a good copywriter to match their swanky industrial design.


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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
English to Polish
+ ...
environmentally friendly Dec 12, 2002

I have the packaging from an Iranian laundry detergent that went by the catchy name of \"Barf\"...

It was imported to Poland in the late communist or perhaps early capitalist days, so probably that fine example of Persian marketing went unnoticed by most.


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Maria Riegger  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Restaurant menus Dec 12, 2002

In Hungary I saw some hilarious translations into English of restaurant specialties. Take this for example:

Steak suddenly slightly grilled over lice coals.

Thanks but no thanks!!


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Maria Eugenia Farre  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:37
English to Portuguese
+ ... Dec 12, 2002

Hi Dan and all,

For a wide assortment of translation howlers and English absurdities used in Japan, check out


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schmurr  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
Italian to German
+ ...
and there is also Dec 12, 2002

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sylvie malich
Local time: 08:37
German to English
Hey, about that German toilet paper: Dec 12, 2002


On 2002-12-11 22:30, jdoughty wrote:

When I was in Cologne in the RAF in 1959, there was a brand of German toilet paper named \"BUM\" on sale there. Some people who visited us for a holiday bought several rolls of it to give to their friends in England.

They still sell one here called \"Happy End\" and I\'m not joking!

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Valters Feists  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:37
Member (2005)
English to Latvian
+ ...
Company names / Re: "Pienas" Dec 13, 2002

SIKKENS and FAG SERVICE are, as far as I know, two technical companies with international presence.



By the way, \"pienas\" is for \"milk\". Therefore the phrase \"Pienas Cheese\" (\"Milk Cheese\"...) seems illogical.

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Nina Engberg  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 00:37
Member (2003)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Swedish candy and toilet paper Dec 13, 2002

There\'s a Swedish toilet paper brand named \"Kräpp\". Also, there\'s a chocolate candy named \"Noblesse\"....

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Local time: 16:37
Italian to English
+ ...
Martin, They are soooooo funny..... Dec 13, 2002

What is this - the Babel Fish Conspiracy????

This gives me such a wonderful feeling of worth!!!!!

I have tried the transaltion and retranslation exercise with Babel and received incredibly humourous results in the past. But Bill Gates as \"Nota\" takes the cake!!!!!


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Palko Agi  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:37
English to Hungarian
+ ...
FAS Dec 13, 2002

I translated for an Irish company called FAS (abbreviation of the Irish name). In Hungarian this (when pronounced) is a very rude word meaning a male body part...

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